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Flying-fish eggs! Kitcho's sushi combos are Killer: 4 hats

Ashby Stiff
Tallahassee Democrat
Published: Thursday, March 10, 2005

Kitcho is an elder in the city's Asian restaurant congregation.

For the better part of two decades this small and unassuming storefront, lost in the hindmost depths of Market Square, has been an A-list supplier of sushi, and other things japonais, to restaurant goers in the know.

At one time, Kitcho's deep, 50-seat dining room and 10-place sushi bar were rendered in practical but austere gray and black. Lately they thrive more cheerfully amid warm red walls, black-lacquered chairs and occasional room-dividing soshi screens.

Though attractive ambience certainly figures into the restaurant's often SRO popularity, we'd sooner attribute it to Kitcho's dedication to freshness of ingredients, skilled preparation and prompt, efficient service.

Then, too, there are those budget friendly ($5 to $7) makimono sushi rolls, and the low- to mid-teen tariff for dinners complete with soup, salad, main course with rice and hot tea. Major assurances, all, of longevity on the Tallahassee restaurant scene.

Usually, sushi rolls are identified by the sashimi, or seafare, they contain: Ebi (shrimp), Maguro (tuna) or Hamachi (yellow tail), for example. When sushi chefs get creative with combos of sashimi stuffings - or with added items such as avocado, cream cheese, flying-fish eggs, asparagus, cucumber and the like - the nomenclature can become as wild as Killer, Volcano, Dynomite and Dancing Eel sushi. The majority of Kitcho's rolls are such inspirationally named combos.

Shrimp buffs will like the Gulf Roll ($5.50), with its crunchy surprise of fried shrimp, scallions and flying-fish eggs, and the American Dream ($5) that combines salmon, shrimp, avocado and flying-fish eggs. For adventurous sushi researchers, dinners featuring a wide assortment of sushi and sashimi are priced at $18 for one person, or $35 for two.

Fun, tasty and exotic though it is, sushi's not the whole Kitcho show. To dine at Kitcho is to watch the ongoing parade of brilliantly colored foods - hot and cold, artistically arranged on boards or in bowls or deep rimmed trays -that transit the dining room.

Besides 15 sushi starters, the dinner menu lists 20 Japanese appetizers. Five dollars buys six familiar Gyoza, or pan-fried pork dumplings, or their steamed or fried shrimp counterpart, Shumai. A dollar less gets Yakitori chicken skewers or Yasai Itame, stir-fry vegetables. Six dollars brings on Kushi Kastsu, or skewered, deep fried fish or pork, or a Kaki Fry of oysters.

For lighter diners, six Entree Salads ($4 to $12) feature informing ingredients as exotic as toasted salmon skin and seaweed, or as familiar as roasted duck or grilled mussels.

Dinners, served only with chopsticks, begin with Misoshiru soybean soup (tasty, if a bit over-salted of late) or clear Osumashi fish broth, both tofu, seaweed and carrot garnished, both sipped from the bowl. Then, a small iceberg salad topped with a choice of creamy garlic or ginger vinaigrette dressing.

Tempura, that perennial favorite of American diners, is offered in four guises, priced from $11 to $15. Included are shrimp, vegetable, chicken and seafood tempuras, the seafood one combining scallops, shrimp, grouper and vegetables.

The best Tempura buy, we think, is the heroically portioned, unfailingly perfect Kitcho Special ($15), a pyramid built of three super-jumbo pinks and pieces of virtually every vegetable sturdy enough to be lightly battered and crisp-fried. Outriders include a generous bowl of rice and one of pleasant, faintly sweet tempura dipping sauce.

We've ordered this more than once, and never yet have we been able to finish all of it.

Other possibilities include chicken, pork and beef, as well as shrimp, flounder, grouper and tuna, variously served as Stir Fry, Katsu (deep fried), or Yakimono (grilled), that last group including good Teriyaki Chicken and sometimes slightly tough Negimaki.

Sensibly priced beers and wines are served. And dessert, if there's room, can be chosen from an enticing lineup of Red Bean, Green Tea and Cappuccino Ice Creams, or Mango Sherbet. Any is yours for $2.50.

RATING: 4 hats

Kitcho Japanese Restaurant
Address: 1415-121 Timberlane Road; 893-7686.

Lunch Hours: Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:00pm
Dinner Hours: Tue-Sat 5:30pm-10:00pm, Sun & Mon 5:30pm-9:00pm.

Payment: Major credit cards and local checks are accepted.
Average tab: $19, dinner and a glass of wine.
Dress code: Casual.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes.
Beverage service: Beer and wine.
Reservations: No.